Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Seed Starting - an irreverant primer

I am going to pause the exposé of rot to write something timely for us gardeners. Just when winter is at its bleakest, we open packages of promise and start to sow. My guide to breaking the rules.

Tomato plant ready for outdoor living.

1. Don't start your plants too EARLY!

No! Stop! Don't plant cucumbers now! It's bad! They might eat your house! Or at least scare the children with their weak, limp tendrils growing cave-light pale on your window sill. It's true, unless I had a fancy greenhouse, I wouldn't start cukes this early. It is way easier to sow in direct in the garden or to start in transplantable containers a couple weeks before setting out. However, I start strawberries in early winter and some plants need months of stratification to break dormancy so I sow them in the fall. This rule is mainly aimed at getting people in short season areas to start their tomatoes in April, or late March at the earliest, rather than in February.

I'll cop to planting tomatoes in February one year. You know, earliest possible last frost date of the beginning of May minus eight weeks gives you March so last week of February sounded reasonable. They did fine. The problem, as I see it, is if you are growing a tomato that tends to crop all at once such as determinates, then you might get a flush of flowers on your root confined seedlings, lowering your yield. There are even tomato varieties that are bred to withstand low indoor light, such as Red Robin, that will hopefully give you fruit in the dead of winter!

So when do I start seed? All year.

2. You MUST have indoor lights!

Indoor lights are good. It's like you have control of your very own sun. To get the maximum satisfaction out of them, I recommend having as many as you can afford in a compact space such as a tower, with the lights on a timer. The often quoted number is of light hours is around 16 but some people have them on round the clock whereas others claim that seedlings need nighttime. There is the question of plants who are sensitive to changes in day length but I'll leave that research for another day. Normally my seedlings get 12 hours because I have two shifts of trays. The lights should be about 2-3 inches above the seedlings.

Wimpy baby plants prefer things moist. I would suggest wick mats or some DIY instant water dispenser but then you might spend less time staring at your seedlings. The best way to avoid problems is early detection so stalk your plants!

You can use actual sun filtered through a window too. Most gardeners will tell you this is not ideal but it does work especially if you have sunny windows that face south(ish). However, I have had success overwintering perennial herbs like rosemary, bay and hot pepper in a north window.

What you really want is to give your seedlings the amount of sun that they have been adapted to thrive in, as soon as possible. When the weather is decent during the day (10C or more) I stick my seedlings along side my winter sown containers. This is just really early hardening off so I start with having them outside for just a little while, building up until the seedlings are hanging out in real sun most of the time. If they are cold hardy, I have probably wintersown them or planted them out already so this is really only for tender bedding plants.

If you have a season extension device like a greenhouse, polytunnel or coldframe then you can put your seedlings out sooner but remember to keep them slighly open on sunny days to avoid frying your plants. Also, outdoor containers will dry out faster than indoor ones.

Wintersown containers revealing seedlings in spring.

Wind is just as much of a shock to tender seedlings as real sun. Their stems were build to withstand the still, indoor air. To make them sturdier, you can set up an oscillating fan nearby or crack a window on nice days to let in the breeze. If my baby seedlings are going outdoors without the shelter of a greenhouse, I usually place them in a box with high sides to protect them from the wind until they have adjusted.

3. But what about the soil and the containers? TOO many choices!

I would suggest starting with the biggest size container that you plan on using for your plants. This will give you a better idea of how much space you need, disturb the roots less and be less work. As for what you use as a container, the world is your oyster as long as the pot has drainage holes (though I have been known to plant indoor seedlings in flats without drainage to keep in moisture longer but these don't go outside in the rain). For plants that resent root disturbance, such as melons, soil blocking, or compostable pots are probably ideal. Tap rooted plants like parsley need deeper pots than those with more lateral root growth like tomatoes. Plastic recyling day is when I get most of my seed starting paraphernalia. The pop bottle is a classic wintersown greenhouse but I also like yoghurt tubs for large seedlings, and fruit boxes to grow flats of seedlings.

As for soil, you could use your own if you are lucky enough to be able to thrust a trowel into it at seed starting time, or you could make a mix or purchase something. I admit to using whatever is available. My outdoor soil is often stickier than the fluffy, soilless stuff from the stores so dries harder. Mixes that are high in organic matter hold their moisture for a long time which is a benefit. I avoid mixes with fertilizers or other chemicals. If you are worried that your soil may contain organisms that might cause die back in your plants, you can cook your soil to sterilize it.

4. Seed starting is too HARD!

Nah. If it was then I would probably have given it up. Seeds are designed to grow so given the right conditions and a little attention from you, they'll do their thing.

Q&A for specific problems

  • Can't afford lights and don't have a southern window: Wintersow or half outdoor grow! Try it anyhow, you never know, it might work.
  • Cat eats the seedlings - Grow in a cage.
  • Seedlings always die off - A solution of hydrogen peroxide, garlic or other antifungal can help. Check the soil for root eating pests, sterilize soil and pots. Watch your watering level.
  • Seeds don't sprout - Look up the longevity of the seeds, maybe they're old. It's also possible that they require special conditions for germination including cold, heat, scarification (scratching the seed coat) or other pretreatment such as overnight soaking. Err on the side of caution with small seeds and surface sow. Some plants germinate better in light such as lettuce whereas others prefer darkness. Less cultivated varieties, including lots of herbs, often germinate erratically, over a long period of time. Try pre-sprouting to test seed quality or to isolate some seeds for special treatment. Peppers germinate much faster using pre-sprouting in a warm area.
  • Seedlings always look a bit sickly - If their colour is off then they might be suffering from nutrient deficiences either because their growth medium is lacking or because they are too cold. Correct with some compost tea or by placing somewhere warmer.
  • Seedlings have long, weak stems - This is usually caused by insufficient light. Try growing in a season extension device part of the day, wintersow, and gradually expose to air currents. When transplanting, some plants can have their stems buried such as tomatoes so they are less likely to flop over.
  • Plants never give me fruit / don't ripen properly even though I start them early - You might need to look for a short season variety of what you are growing or one that is more adapted to your locale whether that be foggy east coast or the blinding light and tumbling nighttime temperatures on the side of a mountain. Sweet potatoes started from tubers at the store will probably not crop well here but the cultivar Georgia Jet will give a good harvest most years. It is possible that the plant you covet just won't grow well in your climate, or your garden, such as tender biennial red beaded broccolis. I know, I want to grow them too.
  • But I really just don't want to start my own seeds - There are small growers that will provide veggie starts for you and lots of seeds that do best when planted in situ. Check with local seed suppliers.
My Seed Starting Schedule
- updated - I'll add division schedules at some point.

  • Sow plants that need 10-12 weeks headstart if they are set out before last frost or are erratic germinators. For example, violas
  • Sow plants that you are tricking into thinking are two years old. Ex. Globe Artichoke.
  • Wintersow frost hardy plants that prefer stratificaiton.
  • Alliums such as onions and leeks
  • Plants that need 10-12 weeks headstart but are set out in warm weather
  • Pre-sprouting hot peppers
  • Wintersown containers
  • Wintersow plants that don't take full frost
  • In mid-March, plants that need an 8-10 week headstart
  • Greens in polytunnel / season extension device
  • Near the end of the month, plants that need an 6-8 week headstart such as tomatoes, eggplants, sweet peppers, other solanum berries. Sometimes cabbage and broccoli starts as well if need a long season
  • More tomatoes and other plants that need 6 weeks heastart indoors
  • Cabbage and broccoli starts
  • Sow peas, radish parsnips in the ground
  • Cold season greens in polytunnel or in ground if it is warm and dry enough
  • Leeks and onion transplants in the ground with a row cover if cold
  • Near the end of the month, start sowing other root crops like carrot, oyster root
  • Start lettuce and half hardy greens and herbs in the garden.
  • Plant out 4 week out brassica starts
  • Last frost will be somewhere is somewhere near the beginning of May, watch the weatehr
  • At the beginning of the month, plant potatoes
  • Plant more broccoli and cabbage seedlings or seeds
  • Start long season melons, squash or other heat loving crops that need a month headstart
  • Direct sow into the garden squash and beans near the end of the month when the soil is warm.
  • All hot loving herbs and flowers can be sown near the end of the month.
  • Transplant solanums like peppers, tomato and eggplant into warm soil after last frost.
  • Can plant a second sowing of greens, or roots for baby vegetable production or succession sowing. I tend to harvest leaves rather than whole plants from greens so don't often do this.
  • Look for self sown seedlings to thin or transplant
  • Check your nursery bed for growth
  • Transplant melon, squash and sweet potato starts in warm beds
  • Start long season crops that will be ready for fall such as Brussel Sprouts.
  • Sometimes I sow a second crop of beans, summer squash about a month after the first and a second crop of peas.
  • Time to start thinking seriously about the fall garden. Start in a nursery bed or indoors starts of cauliflower, cabbage.
  • Sow into their final position tap rooted plants for fall harvest like carrots, florence fennel or coriander.
  • Sow quick growing greens in greenhouse or cold tunnel space.
  • Sow plants that you want to overwinter as seedlings like spinach.
  • Scatter ripe seeds of self seeders where you want them to grow.
  • Prepare and sow nursery bed in time for fall rains
  • Scatter seed from self seeders that appreciate stratification.
October - December
  • Plant garlic and other perennial overwintering onions or tubers like Jeruselum Artichoke.
  • Make sure all fruit seed and other seed that does best with moist stratification or oscillating temperatures are sown in mice proof containers before hard frost.
  • Wintersow in a sheltered snowing location that can take or prefer frost.

Self sowng salad ingredients.

Common Veggies & Herbs, tips

Amaranth - Likes heat so start in situ after last frost or give a short headstart. More from Salt Spring Seeds about Amaranth and Quinoa
Basil - Needs heat and warmth to grow well. Start early only if you can provide these two requirements otherwise start using the half outdoor method or in situ. They grow well from seed planted in warm soil.
Beans - They do not tolerate frost. Plant after soil is warm and after last frost. For staggered harvest, try some early bush types along with some pole beans.
Cabbage - There are short and long season varieties. I find that this technique works best for me. Can either be sown direct into the garden or started as transplants. They grow and head well in cooler weather.
Carrots - Can be planted anytime that the soil is moist and there is no hard frost but ensure that you have enough growing time for them to bulk up. They don't germinate well in the dry soils of summer. I normally start my first crop in late April.
Cauliflower - Best grown as a fall crop here. Start in mid-summer for fall maturation.
Chicory - To get the classic head, these are grown as fall crops but they are perennial so sow and let grow.
Chinese Cabbage - Another veggie that bolts in hot weather. I usually have some that have overwintered and self seed. Another crop best grown to mature in fall or in the polytunnel/coldframe/greenhouse. Coleman's Four Season Garden is a great resource.
Chives, garlic and normal - These are perennials which can be started very early in spring or can be sown direct in the garden. If it can be started outside, I usually do. It's just easier.
Coriander - There are varieties that are grown for seed and some for leaf. Longest leafing plants, for me, were grown in part shade in moist soil. Will bolt in hot weather. Seed every few weeks for a more continuous harvest. Will self seed.
Corn - Plant in situ after last frost.
Dill - Frequent self seeder. Plant at the same time as carrots.
Eggplant - Started around the same time as tomatoes and planted out after last frost. Not a thrifty plant: needs heat, moisture and fertility. Give it your sunniest, warmest position here in the north. It helps to prewarm the bed with clear plastic or incorporate half rotted compost/manure nearby. Variety is imoprtant here too. Choose a short season one. Some of the long asians and applegreen have both cropped well for me.
Fennel - Florence or bulbing fennel is another great candidate for the fall garden so start in summer to mature in the cooler part of the growing season.
Garlic - Plant this after first frost but before ground is frozen. You can grow garlic from the bulblets that develop at the top of the scapes but it will take a couple years for them to bulk up.
Kale - It is quite possible to get a self seeding population of kale around here. Choose a hardy variety and seed two years in a row as they are biennial. The seedlings are normally up and growing by late spring. I would direct sow these.
Lettuce - Succession sow whenever there is no hard frost. Choose varieties that are suited for different times of the year. Often lance leaf open types do better in summer whereas the cripser heads bulk up better in cool weather.

Mustard Greens - Lots of varieties have excellent cold tolerance but bolt quickly in the heat. I let mine go feral and eat when available in the spring and fall.
Melon - Will not take any frost. Choose short season varieties and put into prewarmed beds with either manure or plastic (see Eggplants). You could capture even more heat by building a frame that angles south for the vines to scramble over. These can be prestarted in transplantable pots several weeks to a month before setting out.

Oyster Root - Salsify is the biennial and Scorzonera (I recommend) is the perennial with edible root/leaves. Sow at the same time as carrots.
Orach - These should be self sowing in your garden given half the chance. Start in warm, wet spring. Can also be fall sown.
Onion - Start in February, transplant out to the garden after hard frosts. I usually put mine out sometime in April.
Peas - I plant as soon as the ground can be worked but I've been chastised by growers in climates with heavy, wet soil saying that their peas would rot if planted too early in spring so use your conditions as a gage. Plant when the soil is 'workable.' Plants grow best in cool weather. I often grow a fall crop mostly for the edible green shoots.
Parsley - Some people suggest presoaking to speed up germination which can be slow and erratic. You can start this one inside but it grows well when sown in situ in spring. To be honest, I've only started this plant a couple of times as it was a very good self seeder for me.
Parsnips - I love parsnips so much. I plant these as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring.
Peppers, hot - I presprout these in February and grow under lights in a warm place. Plant out after last frost.
Peppers, sweet - Presprout and grow in March with Eggplants.
Potatoes - I'm a novice with True Potato Seed (TPS) Here's someone who knows more. Tubers can be planted a week or so before last frost.
Potato Onions, Walking/Topsetting Onions - If it can overwinter in the ground, plant in early fall.
Radish - I always forget about this veggie as I'm not a fan but I do sprinkle them around the early spring garden.
Spinach - Cold season crop great for fall, spring or polytunnel gardens. Direct sow.
Squash - Choose a shorter season variety though with about 120 frost free days, we have lots of choice. These are planted after last frost in warm soil. You can use transplants as in melons.
Sweet Potatoes - Grown normally from slips produced by the tubers, they should be planted in the warmest, sunniest part of the garden. See Eggplant.
Swiss Chard - I half outdoor grow these or start in situ in late spring.
Tomatoes - Start about 6-8 weeks before last frost which is the end of March/April. Stems can be partially buried if you have a floppy plant, set deep or plant diagonally. Try wintersowing short season or sauce varieties too.
Watermelon - See melon.
Other - Want info on a specific odd ball veggie I've mentioned in the past, please email or comment and I'll add it to the list or maybe I'll make another list?

* Half outdoor sow: I set outdoors during the day while warm (usually above 5C if under a ventilated cloche, otherwise when over 10C or so) and inside at night. I start to do this in late March/ early April.

Daphne's Dandelions writes a great post on seed starting

-- edited to add --

I Wet My Plants - Great Kemptville Gardener that I have the pleasure of bumping into during Seedy Days and other garden festivals has put up a couple posts on seed starting including a seed starting calculator.

Sowing Seeds, including difficult plants by JDHudson

Monday, February 21, 2011

Urban Homesteaders Unite

So apparently, there is this family in the states who, in order to pay their mortgage or some other bill, decided to trademark the terms 'urban homestead' and 'urban homesteading.' Their explanation justifies this by saying that other businesses were co-opting and watering down the term by using it in 'greenwashing' campaigns. Feeling dirty yet? Anyhow, today is a bloggers call to action to write about urban homesteading to let this family know that they cannot own the name of what some are calling a movement.

I have been reluctant to jump into the front seat of this bandwagon not because I disagree. Far from it, I think it's ridiculous to trademark the term urban homestead. The evidence that it is a commonly used expression, and predates them, is clear. My reluctance is to single out this family. It is not their fault that we live in a system which requires us to hold tight to our ideas and other expressions of creativity in order to make cash to feed our families or send them to higher education or whatever. (I am not apologizing for them. It was their choice to do the very thing they said they were protecting themselves from). There have been times that even I have held back giving out the info goods because I require it for a talk or some other project. I hate to do this. It feels far more natural to share than to hold the monopoly on an idea, a technique or a process.

What worries me is that people are merely protesting the fact that they are protecting a commonly used term. I think there is much more to be concerned about here.

This blog has been solicited on more than one occasion to include ads or otherwise sell stuff. I do not work (much - I do some edible landscaping) outside the home so it has been momentarily tempting but it just goes against my ideals. If I were hungrier, my ideals might be less of a priority. So I put the blame on something greater than this internet villian of the week though I also agree that urban homesteading belongs to all of us.

If you are interested learning more, here is the twitter hashtag: #DumptheDervaeses and facebook page for those who are protesting the trademark.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Story of Crumbs - Part IV - Gross Stuff

Don't worry, it's just apple juice. I thought it best not to include pictures in this post. (You thought it was beer didn't you...)

We know that if it is organic, it will rot, flowing through the cycle of life begetting life but most of us have a dirty, little secret: we think our own input is disgusting. Pee, poop, blood, body, hair, skin cells and spit cause us to cringe. There is good reason for this, as we are vectors for disease. We have created sanitation systems, hygiene products and burial rituals to limit the risk. Clearly caution is warranted. With that warning out of the way, let's look at the hierarchy of fear regarding the body.

Nails and Hair: These are mostly made of the tough protein keratin. If you have ever observed the decomposition of a dead animal, you will see the hair lasts, along with the bones, for quite some time. The most commonly recommended use of human hair is to scare away pests but its protein origins mean that it is also a good source of nitrogen. I even stumbled on this article in Science Daily: Human Hair Combined With Compost Is Good Fertilizer For Plants.* I wouldn't hesitate to add my family's hair and nail clippings to the pile and add the resultant well finished compost to the garden.

Urine: Also known as liquid gold, it is oft quoted that fresh urine is sterile** except in the case of an infection or, I would argue, after it has touched your flesh when it would be innoculated with the usual skin crawlies. Being high in soluble wastes, which include nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous, many people piss into compost piles to get them cooking. They also dilute it and use it as a fertilizer for plants. In fact, urine use in the garden is so mainstream, even regular papers publish articles on it. Common suggestions include applying it the ground, not the plant, and creating a buffer between last use and harvest if you are eating the plant to avoid transmitting disease. You get answers as to whether you can store urine. I wouldn't use it if you had typhoid fever...

Puke: Yuck! I suppose it probably composts but I draw the line! Okay, I tend to prefer spirals, and zigzags to lines so I'll address it but only for a second. Fresh, it probably can transmit whatever disgusting thing made you eject it in the first place. After some time in the wider ecosystem, it almost certainly is rendered harmless. I don't want to discuss it further.

Blood: Since I hope that most people don't have access to any appreciable amount of person blood, I'll restrict this to a talk to menstrual blood. Like blood meal, it is rich in plant nutrients and people do use it to fertilize plants. Most mentions are about non edibles. Because of the possibility of transmitting blood born diseases, it is probably safest to thoroughly compost this product before use. The Humanure Handbook handles the subject of composting bathroom waste which would include menstrual blood if you had a lady in her fertile years in your residence. Thankfully most of the diseases that freak us out do not last long in the hostile environment outside our cozy bodies. There is a reason that some diseases are only transmitted by intimate contact. Most woman collect their monthlies in non compostable products but biodegradable tampons are available as are alternatives such as washable pads and the menstrual cups. I'll let these people carry on the discussion.

Poop: Known as manure in polite circles, the solid waste of animals is often applied to fields either raw (more likely to cause disease) or after composting (less likely). As humans carry the highest level of human pathogens, it would make sense that it would have a high disease causing potential if not properly handled but that is not to say you should be poo phobic. Our current sewage system is all about waste: wasting water, electricity, work and so on. Historically (and presently), in many areas, its value as a soil builder is recognized. Just like with animal manure, it is applied raw or after composting and just like with animal manure, applying it raw has a higher risk. Composting toilets are a viable alternative to conventional sewage treatment. You can also do the composting yourself. I refer you again to the Humanure Handbook (Yes I like this book. It's an enlightening read).

Body: When it comes time to rejoin the earth, instead of being cremated or buried in a conventional casket, it is now possible to get a compostable coffin for your green funeral. As the subject of our own demise opens a whole other can of phobia worms, outside of my gardening jurisdiction, I"ll refer you to Natural and Green Burial page of the Pagan Pastoral Outreach site, with Ontario specific links.

The Story of Crumbs

Part I - Baby Flies
Part II - How to Guide (to Composting)
Part III - Will it Rot the Right Way?


* Original Article
** Even Wiki agrees (Wiki being the ultimate 'they' so they say it and if they are currently in consensus about it and I occupy the territory of they for others then I suppose they are probably right.)

Pee Facts: a website expouses its use as a fertilizer (always guard against the copy crazies and internet experts by cross checking facts and looking for not only the original source but it's validity)

Not exactly related but for the womb blood curious, a link to the Museum of Menstruation.

Night Soil - Wiki writers paint a unpretty picture

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Heart Day

I did not grow this potato but I love it nonetheless.

Love --> Little Ones

I am a seed maniac which leads to seedlings and then, all going well, to plants. Now that I have an acre plus clearing to fill with greenery, I have been seed starting mad. There will be two shifts under the lights soon and the southern windows are getting full. But heck I'm having fun. There are lots of perennial herbs, alpine strawberries, and onions crowding for space. Lots more seeds are stratifying and even more seeds waiting to be sown. It's going to be a crazy year!

Some onion seedlings crowding their container.

For those of you in need of seed, Seedy Saturday in Ottawa is being held at the Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre on March 5th between 10am and 3pm. I plan on being at the trade table with all my extras. Hope to see you there!

P.S. I didn't forget. The next installment of composting will be out next week for those that were waiting to read more about rot.
P.P.S Does anyone know this blogger error? bX-y67gro

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Tyranny of the Tomato
a gardening paradigm exposed

Everyone around me is falling like melting icicles in the high February sun to the winter blues so I thought I'd write a Tomato Tuesday post.

When it comes to vegetable gardening, few plants are as seductive as the tomato. We've all heard the stories of converts who out of wimsy decided to pick up a six pack of slicer seedlings or grabbed a patio pot of cherries and exclaimed several harvests later that 'those were the best tomatoes I'd ever had! I'll never eat store brought again!" Once the novice gardener has tasted the sun ripened tomato, they begin to wonder what other flavour surprises are waiting in home grown vegetables. So it begins, a lifetime love affair with edible gardening. If you are near the start of your journey, let me tell you something you probably already knew.

Bowl of garden grown globes of goodness.

Not everything grows like a tomato. Here is an elaboration:

1. Seed Starting:

Tomatoes are started indoors, under lights, 6-8 weeks before last frost or around the beginning of April here.

Other plants need to be started anywhere from autumn for stratification (chilling period) to 10-12 weeks before last frost to the middle of summer. In fact, I am sowing seeds every month of the year. Seed packets should give you an idea of when to start them but be aware that occasionally it will say something like 4-6 weeks before setting out which may not correspond with the frost date. In other words, you might be setting out those plants before frost or a few weeks after. Violas, onions and strawberries are just a few plants that need a much earlier start.

Stores: Seeds are often not available until February. Some varieties are then sold out by mid summer. This is part of the reason I get most of my seed by trade or mail order so I can start it at the right time under the right conditions.

2. Growing Seedlings:

Tomato seeds should be surface sown or lightly buried and kept moist and warm until germination. The seedlings emerge quickly, around the same time. Keep them under strong light either in a southern window, or better yet, under plant lights.

The rule of thumb is that small seeds should not be buried much if at all. The larger the seed, the more you can poke it into the soil but the requirements for germination will vary. Some special germination requirements may include: Light, dark, cold, heat, oscillating temperatures, scarification (scratching the seed coat), fire, etc... Keeping the soil warm will prevent germination of some plants.

Seedlings of many herbs and most wild plants will emerge over several weeks not all at the same time. Parsley is notorious for taking ages to germinate. There are some plants that need to be kept in the nursery bed for years before they will finally show their green heads.

Also, it is unnecessary to start most vegetables inside. Legumes, greens and vining crops can all be started in the ground. I start only very early cropping brassicas, solanums (peppers, tomatoes etc...), celeriac and the odd veggie or new perennial that I am trying to establish.

Stores: Try and get a descent sized amount of soilless mix in January. I was told these aren't available until April in most places. Plan accordingly.

3. Growing Season

As tomatoes are a frost tender perennial, they must be planted after danger of last frost. If there is a surprise cold spell, they should be covered. The first frost in fall will usually finish them off. This gives you a growing season from frost to frost or in Ottawa about 120 days.

However, other plants, such as peas and parsnips, should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. Some will bolt in hot weather so are sown to mature in the cooler weather of spring and fall such as cauliflower, and many greens. This changes the growing season from snow to snow or from April to November, about 240 days. If you have a polytunnel or coldframe, you can add another two months to that.

Stores: The box stores usually provide all their veggie starts at the same time even if some should have been planted a few weeks ago and if other should not yet be planted for another few weeks.

4. Growing Location

Tomato plants need prime real estate in at least 6 hours of sun per day, in a warm, sheltered spot with medium moisture. Actually, tomatoes can be grown in more droughted situations if warm, moist ground is mulched and they are left to sprawl.

The truth is that there is not a corner of the garden that can't grow edibles with the possible exception of a concrete driveway though I've seen some pretty tenacious dandelions make their homes in the smallest crevices. Lots of vegetables will grow in part or dappled shade, a typical situation in an urban lot. Think greens and understory plants for the most success. You can even try mushrooms in deep shade. Equally, lots of herbs are adapted to dry, hot gardens. Even a wet spot or pond will supply food. If you are lucky enough to have a bunch of cattails growing in clean water, then you have easy access to an important wild edible.

Store: It's hard to find some of the coolest edibles, especially perennial ones.

5. Saving Seeds

Tomato fruits should be gathered when ripe. The seed needs to be cleaned by fermination or a weak bleach solution and then dried very well before storing and labelling. Though you can save from one plant, it is better to save from several of the same variety to preserve genetic diversity.

With the exception of labelling, not all seeds will require the same treatment. Many wild plants with short viability will do better if moist packed or sown immediately. Also, there are different techniques for excluding pests during storage. Weavils can be dealt with by freezing very dry seed for several days.

Also because plants have evolved strategies for dispersing seed such as exploding them out of their pods like Impatiens, we have to diligent about collecting before all the seed has escaped. I know my magenta spreen is ripe when I see the birds pecking at it.

Tomatoes are inbreeders and with the exception of a few oddballs such as currant tomatoes, double flowers and some heritage types, will not cross so your seed will be true.

Other plants can be inbreeders or outbreeders or self incompatible or only have one sex per plant so they require larger populations to produce good seed. Some might produce true seed in one area but not in another because of insect activity. Always err on the side of more plants when saving seed and embrace diversity if you don't want to actively exclude pollen from a different variety.

Also, some plants can only be propogated vegetatively as they don't produce seed or produce seedlings that are very different and perhaps less desirable than their parents. Egyptian onion is propagated by topsets rather than seeds. Many fruits trees are grafted. The top is a desired variety and the rootstock is chosen for its own special characteristics such as being dwarf, hardy or disease resistant. This doesn't mean that you can't grow fruit from seed just that each time will be a surprise. Depending on the fruit type or seed source, it might be quite like the parent or very different.

6. Garden Cleanup

To prevent disease, remove all tomato vines and dropped fruit in the fall. Ruthlessly cull all volunteers in the spring too.

I do know gardeners who let some of their tomato volunteers live (haven't we all just once?). I suppose it would depend on the level of disease you had. Rather than rip out all the plants in the fall, most healthy debris can be left to protect the ground and spread their seeds for next year. You can incorporate it into the soil next year if this is your inclination, plant into it, or topdress with a soil/compost to start beds for small seed that would not be able to struggle through the debris. Leaving some lettuce 'trees' to spread around their seeds gives you a head start on the green season.

7. Edible Gardening

Free from the tyranny of the tomato growing paradigm, you can grow sun phobic, bog friendly, perennial edibles. Start seed in November! Eat weeds! The edible gardening horizon is wide. But don't forget to grow lots of tomatoes too.

Remember this? For those that don't live around here, this is a photo from the Great Snow Year not this year.


Ottawa Gardener admits that the first year she gardened, she started regular shelling peas indoors in February. How has the tomato paradigm affected your gardening life?